2009 was a milestone year for the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) Pro Racing Speed World Challenge series. The championship was now in its 20th consecutive season. The SCCA had developed a successful format that attracted competitors and fans. But the recession of 2008 was impacting car counts.

To add some excitement to qualifying, the series organizers introduced the Fast Five Coin Toss. A World Challenge official flipped a coin and the fastest qualifier would have to call, heads or tails. If they guessed correctly, the top five would line-up as they qualified. If not, the starting order would be inverted for the five quickest drivers.

Most race weekends included two standing start races with a time limit of 50-minutes. One event for the Grand Touring (GT) class and another for the Touring Cars (TC).

  • Grand Touring (GT) – The GT class rules accommodated a broad range of vehicles from different manufacturers. Engine displacements ranged from the 2.5-liter turbocharged Volvo S60 to the Dodge Viper with an 8.3-liter V10 motor. While most of the cars were rear-wheel drive, the series also permitted all-wheel-drive. A majority of the competitors raced a Chevrolet Corvette, Porsche 911 GT3 or Dodge Viper.

  • Touring Car (TC) – The Touring Cars were limited to an engine displacement of 2.8-liters. Vehicles originally equipped with turbocharged or supercharged motors were also homologated for the series. The class was split predominantly between front-wheel-drive cars from Acura, Honda, and Mazda and the rear wheel drives such as the BMW 328i.

To prevent any driver/car combination from dominating the class and ensuring tight competition, the R.E.W.A.R.D.S. system was implemented. Introduced in 1995, R.E.W.A.R.D.S. is the acronym for ‘Rewarding of Equalizing Weight Assigned to Reduce Driver Sensitivity.' This weight equalization rule added or removed ballast from a car based on the finishing position of a driver. The maximum amount of weight that could be removed from a vehicle was 100-pounds. And, no more than 200-pounds could be added to a GT class car and 150-pounds to a Touring Car.

During the 2009 season, there were ten-races for each category. The Touring cars did not compete at Long Beach. However, they raced twice at Mosport Park. As in 2008, the opening round was in March at Sebring, Florida and the championship ended in October at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, California.

The first SCCA Pro Racing Speed World Challenge event of 2009 was held at Sebring International Raceway during the 57th Annual Mobil 1 12-Hours of Sebring weekend. Fourteen Touring Car competitors would race on the seventeen-turn 3.74-mile road course.

Eleven Touring Car drivers exit Sebring’s turn-seventeen in preparation for round one of the 2009 SCCA Pro Racing Speed World Challenge Championship. On the pole is defending race winner, Pierre Kleinubing, in the No. 42 RealTime Racing Acura TSX. Beside Kleinubing in the BimmerWorld BMW 328i driven by Seth Thomas. The second row is occupied by Kleinubing’s teammate, Kuno Wittmer and Charles Espenlaub.
Seth Thomas qualified on the outside of the front row, driving the No. 38 BimmerWorld / GearWrench BMW 328i. An excellent standing start allowed him to surge ahead of the pole-sitter, Pierre Kleinubing. From this point on, Thomas controlled the race – leading all eighteen-laps flag-to-flag for his first series victory. He was awarded the Autoweek Move of the Race for his great launch at the beginning of the contest.
The defending race winner, Pierre Kleinubing, started from the pole in the RealTime Racing prepared Acura TSX. The second fastest qualifier, Seth Thomas, beat him to the first turn. Kleinubing and his teammate, Kuno Wittmer, worked together to catch Thomas, but that strategy ended when Wittmer, retired on lap-9. Unable to chase down the leader, Kleinubing finished second by a margin of 2.563-seconds.
Last season’s World Challenge Touring Car Rookie of the Year, Jason Saini, qualified fifth fastest. Driving the No. 74 Mazdaspeed Mazda 6, he inherited fourth place on the pace lap when his teammate, Charles Espenlaub, pitted. Saini gained another position on lap-9, when the third-place runner, Kuno Wittmer retired with a mechanical problem. Despite a challenge from Chip Herr, he was able to finish third.
The 2008 SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Champion, Eric Foss, made a spectacular series debut. Foss qualified twelfth fastest in the No. 75 Mazda 6. He moved to ninth on the opening lap of the race. During the remainder of the contest, Foss battled with Peter Cunningham, Michael Galati and James Clay before finishing fourth. For advancing eight positions during the event, he earned the Sunoco Hard Charger award.
RealTime Racing entered five Acura TSX for the opening round at Sebring. The No. 44 TSX was driven by Kuno Wittmer. At the end of the qualifying session, Wittmer was the third fastest. He lined up behind his teammate, Pierre Kleinubing, during the race in an attempt to chase down the BimmerWorld BMW of the race leader, Seth Thomas. Unfortunately, the RealTime plan ended on lap-9 when Wittmer retired, he finished thirteenth.
The 2009 round one Touring Car World Challenge Championship podium at Sebring International Raceway. In the center is the winner, Seth Thomas. This was Thomas’ first series victory. Standing on the left side of the rostrum is last year’s winner and the runner-up, Pierre Kleinubing. And, completing the podium is Jason Saini, who was the 2008 SCCA Pro Racing Speed World Challenge Rookie of the Year.

12Seth ThomasBMW 328i18-
21Pierre KleinubingAcura TSX18-
35Jason SainiMazda 618-
412Eric FossMazda 618-
57Nick EsayianBMW 328i18-
68James ClayBMW 328i18-
710Michael GalatiMazda 618-
811Andrew AquilanteSubaru WRX18-
99Peter CunninghamAcura TSX18-
1014Jeff CourtneyAcura TSX18-
1113Toby GrahovecAcura TSX18-
124Charles EspenlaubMazda 617-
133Kuno WittmerAcura TSX9Mechanical
146Chip HerrMazda 65Mechanical

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